THE WINNIPEG JAZZ ORCHESTRA: WJO
Posted: March 12, 2005
On its self-titled debut album, the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra offers the listener the best of two possible worlds—a thinking person's big band that also swings. There's a lot happening in these ten original compositions (including the two-part French-Canadian/Métis Suite), but the elaborate charts seldom interrupt the band's essential purpose, to present high-caliber music that is not only aesthetically pleasing but viscerally captivating as well. Pianist Michelle Grégoire wrote the evocative Suite, as she did the almost-blues "Minor Alterations," while trombonist Jeff Presslaff composed "Having Met," "Nightflame" and the Gershwin-inspired and dirge-like "Something to Wash Over Me." Completing the bill of fare are two works ("Riff Raff Riff," "Europa") by trumpeter Richard Boughton and one each by saxophonist Ken Gold ("The Chomsky Moan") and vocalist Lianne Fournier ("Aphrodite," on which she also sings).
To me, the straight-on "Europa," encompassing inspired solos by flugel Boughton and tenor Brian Klowak and a superb intro by Grégoire, earns the blue ribbon, but the other charts are close behind, and there is certainly much to admire elsewhere, especially in Grégoire's trio of handsome arrangements; the Kentonesque "Having Met," shuffling "Riff Raff Riff" and impishly funky "Chomsky Moan." Boughton delivers another impressive flugel solo on "Having Met," while Greg Gatien is heard to good advantage on tenor ("Minor Alterations") and soprano ("Riff Raff Riff," "Nightflame," Part 1 of Suite Métis). Other soloists of note include Grégoire, Gold (baritone on "Chomsky Moan," tenor on Part 2 of Suite Métis), guitarist Ron Halldorson, bassist Gilles Fournier and bass trombonist D'Arcy McLean.
The charts are sharp and engaging, the ensemble snug and sturdy, and the WJO's debut album is a pleasure to hear.
— Jack Bowers
Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra
The Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra (WJO) is a professional concert big band based in the Canadian city of Winnipeg, Manitoba. They do a frequently sold-out five-concert series every year as well as recordings, broadcasts and outdoor park concerts. The band features several top-level composer/ arrangers whose work is heard on their recent self-titled album.
The WJO was founded in 1997 by artistic director Richard Gillis and saxophonist Sasha Boychouk. It has featured many heavy-duty guest artists during the subsequent eight seasons including: Bill Watrous, Bob Brookmeyer, Phil Nimmons, Cornelius Bumpus, Hugh Fraser, Kirk MacDonald, and several others.
Their debut album is composed entirely by members of the band and was produced by trombonist/composer/arranger Jeff Presslaff. The tunes range from classically swinging modern style of "Europa" to the funky edge of "The Chomsky Moan" to the exploratory "Something to Wash over Me". Jack Bowers writes in All about Jazz: